Time after time we hear from the companies we advise that the key benefit to unified communications is speeding decision-making. UC enables one to quickly find the people they need to solve a particular challenge or answer a question; determine availability, and engage across a variety of channels such as instant messaging, voice, video, or web conferencing.
But the biggest question has often been “how do I determine “who” is the expert for a particular inquiry?” That challenge is now being solved by the integration of social computing and unified communications.
Social computing is a broad term defining a set of applications such as blogs, wikis, communities, microblogs, and discussion forums that enable individuals to form their own connections, join communities of interest, and generate their own content. For many, Facebook is probably the best example of a social computing application. And for many organizations, the desire to bring Facebook-like services behind the firewall is driving interest in social computing.
Most social computing platforms allow individuals to create their own profiles, tagging themselves with areas of expertise. They also leverage the knowledge and experience community participants by giving individuals the ability to tag the profiles of others, or rate their responses to questions or their participation in forums. These approaches allow participants to build reputation scores as well as publicize their areas of expertise to other participants.
By leveraging this information in the context of unified communications, individuals can search social profiles to find the right person for a particular question before they use presence information to determine if experts are available and initiate a conversation.
Thanks to a variety of product initiatives, the worlds of social computing and UC are coming together. Microsoft, in Office Communications Server 2010 / Wave 14 enables Microsoft Office Communicator users to search profile information contained within SharePoint. So by using MOC, one can search for a particular skill set or keyword and find individuals with those keywords in their SharePoint profile and start a communication session. Jive’s introduction of SBS 4.5 incorporates instant messaging interfaces into IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft OCS, again enabling one to search for profile information, find someone who’s profile matches the query, and engage in a real-time conversation. Cisco’s Quad collaboration platform incorporates real-time presence information from Cisco UC applications into a user’s profile. And, IBM Lotus Connections has hooks to both Sametime and OCS for adding presence-based communications to Connections profiles.
The integration of UC and social computing creates opportunities to further improve enterprise collaboration, but it also requires that companies set up the right organizational structure such that those responsible for UC and those responsible for social computing are themselves collaborating. We advise our clients to create an enterprise collaboration group with responsibility for creating an architecture that brings together all the various tools into a unified collaboration strategy. The opportunities to integrate UC and social computing only underscore the need for such an organizational strategy.
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President for Communication and Collaboration Research at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. His background is in network operations, network engineering, voice-data convergence, and IP telephony. Mr. Lazar is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VOIP, unified communications, Web 2.0 initiatives, social networking, and collaboration.
A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and sought-after speaker and author, Mr. Lazar is a columnist for No Jitter and Enterprise2Blog. He is a frequent resource for the business and trade press and is regular speaker at events such as Interop, VoiceCon, and Enterprise 2.0. Mr. Lazar serves as the conference director for FutureNet (formerly MPLScon), and is on the advisory board for the Enterprise 2.0 conference.